Eat well for less with dietitian’s 10 money-saving tips
Editor’s note: This column by Jennifer Motl will appear in Healthy Living on Sunday, April 8.
BY JENNIFER MOTL
Eating well for less is one way to save money, whether to catch up on bills or to splurge on a vacation or some other treat. In this column, I’ll explain some ways to save money on meals.
For the food prices I quote below, I surveyed my local market, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ro3/apmw.htm) and comparegroceryprices.org.
Prices at your local market may vary, but the money-saving tips generally should hold true.
1. LOOK AT PRICE PER POUND
Outfox the sales hype by converting everything to dollars per pound. You can do this by using one of many apps for your smartphone or using an old-school calculator. This allows you to see some hidden money-eaters, then decide whether you still want them or not.
For example, I found some crackers that cost $7 per pound, and potato chips costing $5 per pound. That’s more per-pound than meat, chicken or fish! So, if you want to stretch your budget, keep in mind that junk foods can cost a lot more than protein-rich foods like chicken and fish.
Milk is a budget-friendly buy. Depending on whether you choose regular or organic milk, you may spend $3.50 to $6 on a gallon of milk, which weighs 8 pounds. So, milk really costs between 44 and 75 cents a pound—a bargain compared to other protein-rich foods such as beef, which runs $3 to $6 per pound.
Eggs also are budget-friendly sources of protein. Although weight is not labeled, a dozen extra-large eggs weighs 27 ounces. (You can find more weights for different size eggs on the USDA’s Web site, fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Focus_On_Shell_Eggs/index.asp#17.)
Even if you buy the most expensive free-range, organic eggs for about $3.39 a dozen, that works out to only $2 a pound. Regular eggs often sell for $1.80 a dozen, or $1.07 a pound.
2. BUY IN SEASON
Prices for fruits and veggies swing wildly depending on the harvest time, so be sure to buy them when they’re in season.
To find out what’s in season, shop at your local farmers market or check the Virginia Department of Agriculture’s site at vdacs.virginia.gov/vagrown/pdf/producechart.pdf.
You’ll save money if you buy extra veggies at the farmers market at the lowest prices in summer or fall and freeze them for winter use. Some fresh veggies are available year-round at supermarkets for a relatively low-cost, such as carrots, celery, cabbage and the like.
Other veggies, such as asparagus, are expensive to buy fresh in winter, but can be found more reasonably priced in the frozen food aisle.
3. BUY THE WHOLE BIRD
Instead of buying chicken breasts, consider roasting the whole bird. A 5-pound chicken will yield around 2.3 pounds of meat, not including the bones, fat, neck and giblets.
You can buy a 5-pound chicken for $1.36 a pound. You’d pay about $2.96 a pound for the boneless meat. For comparison, boneless, skinless breasts cost more, around $3.11 per pound.
Another bonus: roast chicken has a richer flavor than breasts, and while not as lean, some of the fat drips off during cooking. For a recipe, try eatingwell.com/recipes/simple_roast_chicken.html.
4. TRY TOMATO PASTE
Tomato paste is a better value than tomato sauce; sauce is basically watered down tomato paste. Why pay double for the water?
You can buy a can of tomato paste, add it to your saucepan, and add a can of tap water to create tomato sauce. Dress it up with your favorite herbs and spices such as garlic, rosemary, oregano and basil.
Another plus for tomato paste—it has radically less sodium than tomato sauce.
5. DIY SALAD DRESSING
Instead of spending $2 to $4 on a jar of salad dressing, make fresher-tasting vinaigrette for pennies.
Combine equal parts olive oil, balsamic vinegar and water; add some fresh or dried basil and fresh minced or powdered garlic. Keep small batches in your refrigerator for up to a week.
6. BE SMART ABOUT BULK
Sometimes you can get a great deal on food in bulk, but it’s only worth it if you will use the food quickly. I once got a great deal on a 20-pound bag of fragrant, basmati rice, but my family doesn’t eat rice that often, and the bag took up space in our already overstuffed pantry for several years. Not a smart choice for me.
But buying in bulk can be a great idea if it’s something you make often. For example, my family loves black-bean chili—we have it a couple of times a month. So it makes sense for me to buy a 5-pound bag of black beans.
7. MEATLESS MONDAY
Swap beans for meat just one day a week—they are both good sources of protein—and you could save lots of money.
For example, beef stew meat typically costs $4 a pound, canned beans cost about $1 a pound, and dry beans cost $1.43 per pound but when cooked, yield at least double that amount. So, cooked, dry beans really cost about 70 cents a pound.
In other words, beef costs almost five times more than beans, yet you can make a satisfying dish such as chili with beans.
8. USE A SLOW-COOKER
Soak dry beans overnight, change the water and cook the beans in a slow-cooker while you’re at work to save time.
Slow-cookers make it easy to take advantage of inexpensive, protein-rich foods such as beans. Plus, a home-cooked meal is less expensive than a restaurant meal.
9. MAKE HUMMUS DIP
Hummus dip is healthier than sour-cream based dips, but it’s not uncommon to spend $3 on a small, 6-ounce container.
Luckily, you can save more than 50 percent by cooking a cup of dry chickpeas and 3 cloves of garlic in a slow-cooker and blending them with 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
10. TRY CANNED SALMON
Salmon is often touted as a great source of heart-healthy omega–3 fats, yet the best-quality, fresh, wild Alaskan salmon costs $10 to $15 per pound.
Canned salmon costs $3.50 a pound, and the quality is great. Even more convenient are the pouches of boneless, skinless salmon—a 5-ounce pouch costs around $2.50, or $8 a pound; still a better price than fresh salmon.
You can eat well for less.
Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin. She welcomes reader questions via her website, brighteating.com, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.